The beginning of the new year must mean reorganizing and decorating, because there’s been a lot of talk about how to arrange small spaces for homeschooling in the Facebook groups. “How do you arrange a homeschool space when you don’t have an extra room?” “Does anyone homeschool in a small apartment?” “We are moving into a tiny house this year. Does anyone one else homeschool out of a really small home? What does it look like for you?”
Even though we homeschool out of a modest two bedroom apartment overlooking a parking lot, I never really feel like these questions are directed at me. I’ve seen families on Facebook post their homeschooling adventures from an RV or an itty-bitty AirBnb in Europe. There are families rocking it in far smaller spaces than ours. However, I totally understand the concern about adjusting to limited square footage. When we decided to start homeschooling, we were living in a spacious cabin with panoramic ocean views on Maui’s north shore. We had more space than we could possibly fill. A year ago, we moved into a small apartment at the foot of Green Mountain in Lakewood, Colorado. Suddenly, space was at a premium and things had to change.
Being what we consider nature-based homeschoolers certainly helps, because we honestly don’t use our “homeschool space” all that much. Nevertheless, I have learned a few things over the past year as we have adjusted to our new home and thought I would share them.
Tip #1: Small Space = Small Furniture
This is easier if your children are still little, but this was a big one for us. I ditched the idea of traditional desks for individual workspaces and made a trip to Ikea, where I scored these modest side tables for about $6 each. They’re just the right size for my girls, weigh almost nothing, and can be easily rearranged or moved to other rooms to accommodate various activities.
Tip #2: Ditch the “Classroom”
It can be hard to shake the mindset of “education = classroom,” especially for those of us who were not homeschooled ourselves. But homeschool is not “school at home,” and we have the gift of being able to learn from wherever we like. In our homeschool, we hop around from space to space as we please. We snuggle on the couch over our read-alouds in our morning basket. We play games in front of the fireplace. We work on drawings at the dinning table, learn math and science as we bake bread in the kitchen, and make a fine mess painting on the micro-balcony. You don’t have to stay in one place during “homeschool time” so embrace all of the living areas you home provides.
Tip #3: Expand Your Boundaries and Take It Outside
This is, by far, the most important factor in our homeschool. We almost never spend our homeschool day indoors. Most of our learning takes place outside of the apartment. We are lucky to have an ample wild space (creek included) right outside the back door. But it doesn’t stop there. We take advantage of tons of local open space parks, hiking trails, museums, and libraries. Not only does this help prevent feeling cramped or crowded, it provides endless opportunities for real-world, interest-led, play-based learning.
Tip #4: Pay Attention to Lighting
My biggest complaint about our apartment has nothing to do with space and everything to do with lighting. Because only one side of our home has windows, it tends to feel dark and dreary in the back half of the space. Lighting makes a big difference, so I hug up to the natural light we do have and compensate with candles and gentle lamp-light in the darker corners. It may not be perfect, but it helps. And candles definitely add a layer of cozy.
Tip #5: Use the Walls
Go vertical with shelves and displays, freeing up limited floor space. I also like to do regular sweeps to rotate art work, remove outdated supplies, and keep clutter from building up. You can also grab some great rotating art display systems from Ikea or the hardware store to make it easier to switch out without leaving tons of holes in the walls (a lesson I’ve learned the hard way.)
Tip #6: Build Downtime Into the Schedule
A large part of our small-space success is dependent upon having time apart to decompress, rest, or (in my case) catch up on work. Most days, we have quiet time from around noon until around two. At this time, my youngest naps in one bedroom, my oldest plays quietly in another, and I work at the kitchen table or (in warmer weather) on the balcony. The girls seem to appreciate this respite each day, and it gives me a chance to work without distraction. Establishing this as a routine was key–it took about two months before it became a normal part of the day. But it was worth it!
Tip #7: Think Like a Curator
I’ve read dozens of books about organizing and downsizing, mostly because I had to. When we were preparing for our big move to Maui, we had to somehow get the contents of a big, four bedroom home in the suburbs down to what would fit into a Subaru Outback. None of these books helped, not one–until I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo. Something about the philosophy in this book really struck a chord in me, and helped me to downsize to absolute bare-essentials with no problem whatsoever. Since then, I’ve maintained the idea of organization as curation. It’s not about trying to fit everything into systems and pretty boxes with labels. It’s about keeping what brings joy and breathes beauty into the home, and getting rid of the rest.
The same thing applies to curriculum and supplies. Does it delight? Does it enchant? Does it inspire? If it doesn’t, it doesn’t get to take up space (physical or mental.)
While I really can’t wait for the day when we can move into a place with some acreage around us, or at least a woodsy cottage, flooded to the brim with natural light, I am content. We are making our space work for us. If that family of eight, touring the United States in an RV while they homeschool can do it, so can we. Those adorable homeschool rooms, complete with chalkboards and nature tables and old-school desks is awesome, to be true. But so is our candle-lit kitchen table and our little Rocky Mountain creek.
What does your homeschool space look like? Do you have a dedicated room or are you working it in a smaller space?
Grab your free STEAM cards for nature play!
36 cards to inspire STEAM creations on your next hike or nature walk! Laminate, throw them on a ring or carabiner, toss them in your backpack, and go! Homeschool STEAM just got a whole lot easier. 🙂